CHICAGO, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Comptroller Susana Mendoza (D-Illinois) announced “a major policy change” in a press event on Monday morning that her office plans to get out of the debt collection business when it comes to unpaid red light camera fines.
Mendoza, who won re-election in 2018, said the red light camera fines often “fall hardest on the poor and on minorities,” and highlighted that at least one red light camera company is under federal investigation. Safe Speed LLC was named in FBI subpoenas and search warrants when agents raided the offices of state Senator Martin Sandoval. No one from the company has been named in any charging documents at this time.
The automated devices are installed in various cities and towns across Illinois, but are most popular in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. If your car rolls through an intersection, or if you make a right turn at a red light, and the camera snaps an image of your license plate, you can get a ticket in the mail. If those fines go unpaid, the amounts can double or triple.
Mendoza says she urged local governments to examine their use of red light cameras to determine “whether the harm that they may be committing on their own communities are worth the revenue that they bring in.”
Mendoza also noted a recent report in the Chicago Sun-Times that quoted a local government official who confessed to arranging a contract as an outside consultant for a red light camera company, then pocketing income or commission as a government insider at the city that assessed and collected the fines.
“That is wrong,” Mendoza said. “It stinks and it’s rotten. We can’t tolerate the practice of municipal employees directly pocketing cash from contracts that they arrange.”
“There is very little transparency frankly on this system as a whole,” she said.
“While we can’t unilaterally end this program, we can certainly end our participation in anything that would take money away from people who can least afford to pay it for violations that I would argue probably many times they shouldn’t have been getting to begin with.”
The Office of the Comptroller will discontinue the practice of collecting debt for unpaid red light camera fines on February 6th, 2020. Local cities and towns will still able to hire private debt collectors to collect the fines.
The scrutiny on red light cameras in Illinois comes at at time when red states like Texas, Mississippi, and West Virginia have banned them outright, while blue states such as Maryland, Washington, and New York have implemented cameras to track and fine drivers who exceed the speed limit.
Mendoza voted to allow red light cameras in Illinois back in 2006 when the state legislature hoped the devices would improve public safety and reduce crashes at intersections. She said the state never anticipated the industry would spiral into a corruption scandal that rewarded insiders.
Here are the cities and towns that use red light cameras, according to a list provided by the Comptroller’s Office: